The 2012 season couldn’t come soon enough for the Revolution.
After a dismal 2011 that saw them finish with a franchise-low five wins and a spot at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table, everyone from the players, management and fans was anxious to put the season behind them and look toward the future.
But before the organization could set its sights on the following season, it realized changes would have to be made.
The first -- and most dramatic -- was the decision to part ways with long-time manager Steve Nicol. Although the affable coach led the team to eight consecutive playoff appearances from 2002-2009, back-to-back losing seasons spelled the end of the Nicol Era in Foxboro less than three days after the season finale.
Following Nicol’s exit, the Revolution restructured its front office by tapping former COO Brian Bilello to succeed Sunil Gulati as President and naming former VP of Player Personnel Michael Burns to the general manager’s post. Though neither is a stranger to the organization, the appointments were designed to give the front office greater transparency.
The first order of business for the duo? Finding a new head coach. After weeks of interviews, the team went with another familiar face, former Revolution defender Jay Heaps. And while Heaps may not have been the most experienced candidate, his work ethic and modern approach to game preparation were enough for the organization to hand him the head coaching reins.
With only eight weeks to revamp the roster prior to the start of the preseason, Heaps hit the ground running. Veterans Pat Phelan, Ryan Cochrane and Kheli Dube had their options declined, while international signings Rajko Lekic, Milton Caraglio and Monsef Zerka were allowed to take their services elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Heaps and the front office made sure they locked up perennial All-Star Shalrie Joseph and the reliable Matt Reis for the 2012 season. With two proven veterans on board, the team began to build around them.
It started with the addition of midfielder Clyde Simms in Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Process. From there, the team added center back John Lozano and midfielder/forward Fernando Cardenas, both from Colombia. Then came the SuperDraft, which opened the door for the team to select the technically-sound Kelyn Rowe with the third overall pick.
But the moves didn’t end on draft day. To sharpen the attack up top, the team recruited another Colombian -- Jose Moreno -- and former Bayern Munich reserve striker Saer Sene. Although doubts were cast about Moreno after reports in Colombia surfaced that he wanted to remain in his native country, the Revolution insist that he will join the team shortly.
The moves worked wonders in the preseason as witnessed by the Revolution winning six of seven contests. And while the squad still has room to improve -- particularly on defense, where rookie Tyler Polak hasn’t taken over the left back spot as quickly as anticipated -- the team has claimed something it was desperate to find last year, confidence.
It may be too early to tell how the changes made in the winter will impact the Revolution in the spring and summer. But the returns thus far have been promising.
During the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup, a four-team preseason tournament, Rowe has shown the skills to be a game-changer. Lozano became a strong and steadying presence in the back. Simms has proven a capable partner alongside Joseph in the center. Sene has shown flashes of potential by getting into good positions. That, along with solid performances from Joseph, Reis and 17-year-old Homegrown sensation Diego Fagundez have brought a renewed sense of optimism to Foxboro in the aftermath of last season’s failures.
It’s taken a particularly active offseason to rebuild the Revolution -- so much so that Burns often quipped that there was no offseason for him and Heaps. But the parts that the pair has assembled -- including recently-signed midfielder/forward Lee Nguyen -- during the winter has put the squad in a position to extend their season come autumn.
The 2012 season is right around the corner. And for everyone involved, it’s about time.
Brian O'Connell is covering the Revolution for ESPNBoston.com. He is the co-founder of New England Soccer Today (www.nesoccertoday.com), which covers professional soccer within New England. He can be reached at BOConnell21@aol.com.